As I did last winter, I made a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame's library to pick through the player files of notable White Sox. The Hall has a file on every player who appeared in the major leagues, and it's a lot of fun rifling through them. They mostly contain clippings from newspapers and magazines, but you'll get contracts, military papers, death certificates and other assorted items mixed in.
Some files are heftier than others, based on the amount of interest in the player during and after his career. Shoeless Joe Jackson, for instance, has an entire crate full of files due to the whole Black Sox thing. Today's player has a couple folders' worth of items himself, because he's not only the one of the White Sox's greatest players, but one of the best the game has ever seen.
He's Edward Trowbridge Collins, and he's thoroughly underrepresented in franchise lore. Let's start correcting that in a two-part review.
Why Eddie Collins?
Because when Ken conducted a "Greatest White Sox" poll here last March, we collectively called Collins the 12th-greatest, which is really hard to fathom. Part of that is because Collins became famous as a member of the Philadelphia A's and their "$100,000 Infield," but that excuse only goes so far. He spent more time on the South Side, and had a fine career as a White Sox through age 39.
Collins is one of the game's greatest second basemen and an inner-circle Hall of Famer, finishing in the top 20 in hits (10th), runs (17th), OBP (12th), triples (12th), walks (19th) and steals (eighth).
He's in better standing on the White Sox's all-time leaderboards, even though he only spent half his career in Chicago:
- WAR: 63.4 (3rd, behind Luke Appling and Frank Thomas)
- BA: .331 (2nd; Shoeless Joe Jackson)
- OBP: .426 (2nd; Thomas beats him by one point)
- Games: 1,670 (t-7th with Harold Baines)
- Runs: 1,065 (5th; Paul Konerko passed him this year)
- Hits: 2,007 (5th; Konerko again)
- Triples: 102 (t-3rd with Appling; Fox and Shano Collins had 104)
- RBI: 804 (6th)
- Walks: 965 (3rd)
- Stolen bases: 368 (1st)
Collins also owns the franchise's highest single-season WAR total. B-Ref credits him with 9.1 WAR in 1915, as he hit .332/.460/.436 with 119 walks and an OPS+ of 165 while playing a fine second base.
In historical terms, Collins was the last World Series-winning White Sox second baseman before Tadahito Iguchi, and came out of the Black Sox Scandal free of any dirt. Chick Gandil hated him, and that's a great thing.
So the next time anybody asks you about the greatest White Sox players in history, Collins should be in your Top 4, not your Top 12. Man. Come on.
How he got to the Sox
Let's pick up the story after his Philadelphia career, because this isn't a Philly A's blog (potential name: Get Your Mack On?).
Collins became available for a few reasons. The first is money, of course. Charles Comiskey paid Connie Mack a reported $50,000 to acquire Collins, which was a massive sum. In an untitled clip from December of 1914, Comiskey explained his decision:
"I have been paying out sums like $18,000, $15,000 and $12,000 every year for players who are nothing more than a gamble. As a matter of fact, none of the players I have paid fancy sums for ever made good. Only my bargains like [Ed] Walsh, [Reb] Russell, [Buck] Weaver and one or two others ever came through.
"So I reasoned that instead of paying $18,000 for a bush leaguer, whose ability to make good nobody could foretell, it would be better business to pay three or four times that sum and get a star whose skill was uncommon and well known.
"But money can seldom buy such a player. My chance come when I heard that Mack might part with Collins for an adequate offer. I immediately rushed to Philadelphia and didn't hesitate to meet Mack's terms, big as they were. I think I made a bargain, anyway, for I was able to buy the best player in baseball."
There was also the matter of what was apparently a divided clubhouse. Collins had what might have been his finest year in 1914, wining the MVP while batting .344/.452/.452 with a league-leading 122 runs scored, but he had a poor showing (3-for-17) in the World Series as the highly touted A's were swept by a Boston team now referred to as the "Miracle Braves."
And back in 1912, the only season in a four-year stretch where they didn't win the pennant, some teammates blamed Collins because he wrote a series of 10 articles about inside baseball for American Magazine. It one of them, he explained how opponents tipped their pitches, and the "unhappiest A's" argued that their opponents were able to correct their weaknesses.
In an amusing analysis of the signing in Leslie's Illustrated Weekly News on Feb. 4, 1915, columnist Ed A. Gouwey hoped Collins' writerly days were behind him:
Two things made possible the accession of this young fellow, apparently at the height of his prowess. One was Comiskey's willingness to pay in cash the highest sum ever given for transfer of a player. For this reason there is nothing but praise. The second reason was dissension in the ranks of the Athletics, American League champions. While we welcome the conditions which made the Athletics willing to dispose of Collins, these conditions never should have existed. Collins was one of the few ball players to write or allow others to write for them newspaper articles. Collins is able to write his own "stuff." At any rate, he told enough so that he was openly accused of revealing information which was damaging to his club. The other players resented the unfolding of club strategy and systems to the enemy. That was the start. Now the question arises, will Collins continue his newspaper writing? The writer believes the White Sox need ball players. Collins is a ball player. The writer does not believe the White Sox need authors.
Basically, if Twitter existed 100 years ago, Collins would have been pretty good at it.
Collins tended to rub teammates the wrong way because he was often the smartest guy on the team. He was from an upper-class background and attended Columbia, and he had plans to become a lawyer before realizing a pro baseball career was doable. He had little in common with other ballplayers, and his peers didn't care for that.
While his upbringing and sense of entitlement could alienate his teammates, they ultimately served him incredibly well at the end of the decade.